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2008
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August 31st; Some euroclub smoothness: Josefine Cronholm & Ashley Slater. He of 'Private Sunshine'
August 30th; Budapest. Wake up late. Sunshine. Eat some chicken. A model wants to meet Monday, not today. Proofread. New moon tonight. An Indian banknote collector's weblog: pretty. Another soothing tune.

August 29th; Some more sessions at the Drupal conference. Last night strolled across Szeged too late in the afternoon clutching the converter plug the organisers lent me and met a flow of Drupal people coming the other way, because the building had just shut. So the socket adapter and I joined several folk for dinner, including David, Matthew, Michael, & Prodosh. Matthew is English and lives in Switzerland, and Prodosh grew up in Calcutta and lives in Switzerland. Matthew generously shares out chocolate liqueur coupled with some good advice. Today have the lunch-snack thing with Matthew & Christian, who tells us about the early days of Apple and Microsoft operating systems. Pop in on a user-testing talk, stay for part of an introduction to ubercart, and then chat to some people from a support firm. Finally rather lazily buy a train ticket from the Drupal reception team and get myself down to Szeged railway station in the last golden light of the afternoon [at least golden while you're strolling through leafy streets]. Handsome in a proudly provincial way, the station has mint green walls, white-gloss-painted wooden wall panelling, and rather Charles Renee Mackintosh light fittings all clean and restored. I board and find that my extra-price Intercity ticket has purchased a place on a train with no curtains, no blinds [the sun is needle-sharp as it goes down over the flat fields for the next two hours] and no buffet car. The buffet car usually has thick curtains very helpful against the sun, not to mention drinks in case you are thirsty. So what did I learn at Drupalcon?
1) Must get more confident with CSS, 'theming', CCK, 'hooks', The Deck and other stuff.
2) Must accept that my heart is more open & vulnerable than I realised. Quite startling three days. I know far less about my feelings, about my anger & desire, than I thought I did. Vital to think this through - or feel it through.
So there I am on the train with no curtains, trying to doze in the upright seats while the evening sun bakes the whole carriage with its glare. Why do all train, bus and airline seats go up the spine in a hollow curve that makes you slouch, and then jut in at the back of your head forcing it even further forward, when it is totally obvious the human body is shaped the other way? The seat should support just under the shoulders, push padding in behind the neck and go back out further up so the head can lean back in line with the spine. A set of vertical, thick, cushioned ribs could help you wedge your head in a comfortable position. As it is, you get a kind of flat bowl your head lolls around in until it is at the most uncomfortable, neck-cricking angle, whereupon a wing cushion helpfully holds it in that horrible position. Small children could design something better in roughly half a minute. Thing is, since the Bauhaus in the 1920s, about a hundred colleges across the world have been teaching furniture design for almost a century, students at almost every single one enduring at least one course on redesigning the chair from first principles. As anyone with more intelligence than a root vegetable can see, most current seating in places where people need to sit for hours is very uncomfortable. What does this mean? Clearly it means that not only do several thousand parsnips hold furniture-design qualifications, but they control all seating manufacturing worldwide. Matthew's right, usability is an interest worth pursuing.
August 28th; Back in the big-windowed informatics building where the talks are taking place. Despite a strange shortage of sockets, and slightly iffy WiFi [for a centre of computer science at a university proud to be one of the first into the field fifty years ago] the place is pleasant, bright and clean. Small trays of salty snacks sit around cool-water machines and brightly-coloured beanbags we are supposed to flop into while brainstorming the next Facebook in small groups. There are also rooms called "BoF" rooms, standing for "Birds of a Feather" which seems to be a pointless made-up word for rooms where people can organise impromptu meetings. When used by speakers with a variety of American, Dutch, and Nordic accents, it sounds like "bathrooms" said strangely. Almost every single person attending is wearing a tee-shirt with writing on it. Have an interesting chat with Paschal about Africa and African languages over our Hungarian open-sandwich lunch snack. Also talk to Darren, who has been in PHP for a few years and has good suggestions. A branding designer & usability consultant do a talk on redesigning the Drupal website - when they ask for any "end-users" I feel rather lonely putting my hand up in the middle of the large auditorium. No-one else I can see has their hand up.

August 27th; My hostel room does not include a towel. Never mind. Walk into the centre of Szeged and try to register for conference. Having found the street address of the venue the previous night after searching quite hard on the website [not on the front page, but hidden at the bottom of the travel page, and only there in answer to a request in June], I get to the venue nice and early. This means I can spend most of the hour between 8am and 9am in five separate queues because, despite having paid in full in June [and they freely acknowledge I have paid in full, this is not in doubt] they are missing my invoice address, so the whole process of registration, badge-printing etc has to be held up and me with it. The Hungarian girls behind the counter behave, as Magyars so often do, like bits of computer code. They literally cannot imagine doing task B if task A has not been completed, so I must wait. They mean well, and are driven almost frantic when I point out they could have organised the task differently.
The first talk is fairly self-congratulatory, milking the audience for feel-good applause roughly every 90 seconds. The more people get thanked for their vital help in making the conference possible, the more I wonder why the programme is full of strange English [I offered free editing online almost two months ago, but no-one replied to my offer] and why not one of those eager helpers thought of putting the street address on the front page of the website. Dries, the Flemish founder of Drupal, takes over, and gives a quite thoughtful talk about, among other things, why so few end-users seem to be on the Drupal site. At 11am a genuinely helpful talk from a North American woman called Addison is all chatty humility, and has some handy tips about starting to code in Drupal. A later talk is interesting because it is about designing websites for small rural businesses, and because the woman giving the talk, Jane, has some business sense and keeps the internet in perspective, to the concern & puzzlement of some in the audience. After some rest in the evening, I walk back across the river from the leafy side of the river Tisza where I am staying. At least one rock concert is just below one side of the white-painted girder bridge on the leafy bank. As I pass it the music is complemented by the warm, summer aroma of sun-dried vomit. Big ball-shaped baskets of some small pink flowers hang from lamp-posts. Find the Drupalists enjoying The Free Drink, which is a slim glass of fizzy yellow that goes gradually red towards the bottom - some kind of strawberry-liqueur-plus-champagne, apparently. Others say they hated it, so I get a second one for free: though the red taste at the bottom is a bit like jam, I quite enjoy them both.
August 26th; Afternoon train down to Szeged. The town is warm, pretty, & friendly.

August 25th; Pop out to airport to meet Mikkel & Christian from Denmark. They are here for this week's Drupal event in Szeged. Bump into Jim & Diane mid-afternoon.
August 24th; By late night, a mix of caffeine, alcohol, melatonin, vitamin A and one or two other things does something interesting to my mood. Somehow the quality of my attention and awakeness becomes smoother, even creamier, odd as that might sound. I fall asleep with a sensation that I am turning into some kind of pure metal, having my volume slowly and gorgeously filled by billowing clouds of powdered silver. I could pay serious coinage for such a feeling, but this costs almost nothing. Vitamin A is the business, citizens.

August 23rd; Stay up late editing and proofreading. Cannot remember who it was who came to my room at college and insisted we both sit down and listen to disc one of 'Einstein on the Beach' right through. Here is much of the ten-minute opera 'Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread'
August 22nd; Hot sticky weather. At suggestion of director friend, attend audition in mid-afternoon. Odd script, with a part for a tense Englishman who keeps switching into French. Later buy a Spanish dictionary and some muscle-relaxant cream which stings a bit. Drum tracks.

August 21st; Fly to Budapest. Sleep much of afternoon. Go weight-training in the evening. Stay up most of the night. Seems that all secret-police TV shows [as Colin Watson called them] in the 60s & 70s had theme t u n e s composed of conga-style drums, deep brass & a high thin melody. See how slowly the global-warming-themed 'Our Man Flint' gets started, though with wonderfully dated moments adoring the pneumatic tube canister and the majestic punched-card computer.
August 20th; Before getting out of bed, finish sister Heather's hosts' copy of 'Blink' by Malcolm Gladwell. Must find out if it was his sister at the maths lectures. Despite being born in Britain, Gladwell has learned writing in the US, so there is the usual readability problem you get with books by American journalists. We can never just get down to what a particular researcher has found, because first we have to have a lead-in sentence like [it's easy to make one up] "On a sunny, late-spring afternoon in a New Jersey suburb two men in chinos and open-necked shirts are sharing a sea-food lunch." This kind of writing you get in American books & magazines can be deeply irritating. It also means that the actual content of the book turns out to be about a quarter of what it promises. In brief, Gladwell meets people who say that rapid, apparently instinctual, judgements [such as "my gut tells me this artwork is fake"] are often right. This is most true when those judgements summarise lots of previous learning. He meets Ekman and learns about the facial muscles and how we read people's faces at a glance. For at least a page, he confusingly describes expressions with reference to these muscles without a diagram or list of which muscles are where. Gladwell also writes about how snap judgements can deceive us. For example, we think that Pepsi tastes better than Coca Cola because a single sip test is biased towards the sweeter choice. However, the real experience of drinking some vile soda drink to the bottom of a bottle, at home, combined with all the messages of the packaging & advertising is the composite sensation that sells a brand. Running out of steam slightly at the end, he discusses how some situations close down our ability to collate lots of data into quick judgements. So, policemen when frightened become almost autistic, unable to see details that should show they are not in danger and do not need to kill, for example, this electrician. Some interesting bits, but overall the usual disappointing mishmash of psychology research and what the researchers' beards and pullovers looked like when he met them. Before leaving the house, Heather & I have a Skype webcam conversation with Nikki, one of my perky nieces. Nikki lives in Sydney and does something for Coca Cola. Fred & Heather kindly drive me down the winding hillside road to the station to catch my very air-conditioned mid-afternoon train into Barcelona. There I successfully meet Follo, but fail to find the Nigel of Light, due to difficulties with mobile phones. Late lunch with Follo & Valentina in their partly-restored house in the old town, with the two children, Taifa, and the bouncy 2-year-old tot Ada [named after the mathematician and computing pioneer who collaborated with Babbage], and their friend Joanna. Follo explains how much toil has already gone into the house in the country he has also been restoring and as I say goodbye Valentina is in the cellar with two Brazilian workmen surrounded by dusty bricks and tools. Architect Joanna helpfully walks me to the nearby bus station to catch the last coach of the day out to the airport. We pass four good-looking people speaking a strange language, which I later find out at Joanna's insistence is Lithuanian, and very beautiful & archaic it sounds too. On the coach, I get talking to striking fine-art graduate Emma, clearly descended from the angelic Angles Pope Gregory and the other Augustine met. Sign in at the airport hotel, which feels and smells just the way a 1960s Mediterranean hotel should, with cheap wood chairs, cool marble floors and a sleepy basement canteen open until 10pm. No digital door-card nonsense, but a proper key dangles from a chunky block of see-through plastic with slightly skewed room number sealed inside. Sleep until 6am.

August 19th; More Catalan suburb relaxation. The general mood of local people we meet at the shop or walking through the vineyards is absent-mindedly affable. Heather decides to move the mouldering severed limb from the kitchen - some kind of Iberian pigmeat delicacy with its slightly sinister coating of velvety green. The house Heather & Fred are looking after is odd. It is large, rambling and rather dark inside. There is a garage with two cigarette vending machines, a shelf full of cocktail shakers, four cement mixers, two shelves of bound volumes of back copies of 'Hola' from the 1950s and 60s, a drawer full of cigarette lighters, two drawers full of old telephones: the usual. The grounds are overgrown and include an almost-completed swimming pool, dry naked concrete calling out for water to fill it. Indoors, a number of furry animal heads peer at us from the walls of the sitting room, but they look not quite right, due to the lowness of the ceilings. Rather than trophies lining the master's high-beamed hall, they are more at the height of domestic livestock who've burst their heads through from the neighbouring cattleshed. Insofar as animals can have expressions, they look a bit surprised.
August 18th; We wander around Sant Llorenc d'Hortons, which is a small quiet town somewhere on the outskirts of Barcelona. Mostly vineyards around. Heather & Fred introduce me to the owners' cartoon-style mongrel dog, so dim it ties itself in knots with its chain, and - apparently - must on no account be let off its leash.

August 17th; This time goes to plan. Air-conditioned train from Alicante to Barcelona. Travel first-class, and though they have not had the idea of power sockets for laptops in their preferente carriage, they do try. Very decent free breakfast [including a darling little purple clothes peg holding together all the tiny sachets of condiments], free headphones to hear the naff films on the little television monitors, and a very brisk man steadily plying me with tea, water, and fruit juice at least for the first sixty miles of the trip. Lots of quiet, sleepily courteous Spanish people scattered about train. Spain seems to combine low-key with a certain dose of flair. Sister Heather & Fred meet me at Barcelona station, we take a suburban train out to the large, dark house they are looking after for friends, and we drink quite a lot, chatting late.
August 16th; Warm day. I get the bus into Alicante railway station and find that all the trains today to Barthelona are full. Every seat sold, so they say [note the incorrect links on that page]. As so often with reforming countries, all the surface elements are impressive. New station, new graphics, new trains, all very shiny. Just some totally basic, common-sense element missing. I warn sister Heather, then buy a first-class ticket for tomorrow. With help from an interpreter I explain to the station staff in cheery terms how to set train ticket prices so as to cover the marginal cost of always adding an extra carriage if all seats sell out. The clerk girls seem friendly and genuinely interested by this how-to-join-the-19th-century tip. Back at the university accommodation complex, book in for a second night. Am given a room almost the exact left-right mirror image of the one I slept in last night. Mind you, the kitchen sink hot and cold mixer-tap directions are set the wrong way round again [blue=right=hot, red=left=cold] and the facing bathroom sink mixer-tap directions are right again [blue=right=cold, red=left=hot], despite having swapped sides of the room - otherwise a perfect mirror image. Sleep much of afternoon. Long-weekend fiesta and siesta go together. Must rhyme for a reason.
Three more from Lady Waks: g h i.

August 15th; Fly from Manchester to Alicante. Should have taken water onto the plane, because their system is that the bratty children get served first and I am not allowed to buy a fruit juice until an hour has gone by. A couple of very sweet Spanish girls at Alicante airport, including one astonishing border guard with long blonde tresses and a gorgeous smile. Manage to find taxi driver to take me to the university campus. When I ask him my single prepared question in Spanish [May we speak in English?] he asks suspiciously if I am Italian. We settle on French and I get to my clean white sleeping cubicle soon enough, in a complex of buildings all rendered outside with that vivid mid-blue Greeks like so much. Eating out at the local shopping centre, it becomes clearer than ever how much modern architecture depends on sunshine. A really quite banal mall, which could have been in Skelmersdale or Warrington, but here the overbright colours and random bits of sculpture are less offensive. In warm evening light with relaxed, brown-skinned people wandering around, the decor seems to jar less than in the north. Not actually elegant, but perhaps stylishly ugly. The food court is open-air, and as dusk takes hold, the sky hollows out like a dome of burnished metal, not quite matt, without a single cloud or vapour trail. Soft grey at one side of the sky, and a creamy pale blue where the sun has just gone down - this could be a desert evening.
August 14th; Still dark, still rainy. Depressing place. More clearing up. Rip weeds off the wet exterior wall. Try, but fail, to book room in Alicante. Debit card not acceptable. The darlings at British Telecom confirm they cut me off because I owe them sixty quid's worth of line rental since January. Finish Nigel's copy of 'Narcissism', by Alexander Lowen. The author, an American Reichian, says it is the problem of our era, replacing Victorian guilt and repressed sexuality. He writes interestingly about children shocked by parental discord, and manipulated by one parent into taking their side against the other. Being a follower of Reich, he naturally concentrates on muscular "body armour". This leads to rather overconfident [not to mention odd] interpretations like the following: "To my surprise, Mark didn't react at all when I applied pressure with my fingers to the tight muscles in his groin. " and "In fact, he told me, he felt like laughing at me. He suppressed the laugh because he sensed it had a diabolical ring." The idea that it might be quite natural to tense or laugh oddly when a strange man begins to poke around in your crotch never seems to occur to Lowen, as it so rarely does to therapists once they take up residence inside one of these systems. Lowen extrapolates a bit much from his own case, and dissolves at the end into a curious homily about how times have changed and decency and dignity have disappeared since his adolescence in the early 1920s. The scale of narcissists is the most intriguing bit: apparently serial-seducing Don Juan types are the healthiest, least narcissistic types among narcissists, men who kill lots of people or easily might [psychopaths] are the second most narcissistic, and people with paranoid fantasies of grandeur are the most narcissistic of all. Some bits apply to me, but not as helpful as I imagined. Lowen's idea of feeling with the body as opposed to the body image is quite subtle but only seems to be explained through the body-armour idea, not much help to narcissists with relaxed muscles and postures. Interesting, but not great.

August 13th; Move more books. Lunch with thoughtful Minnie from Harrogate.
August 12th; Start moving boxes of books down the stairs into the sitting room. Yorkshire is dark, damp, rainy, and considerably chillier than either Hungary or France. Stay up late clearing books out of my room and mother's room. The Russia-versus-Georgia scrap seems to have temporarily halted.

August 11th; Wake up at Nigel's in Manchester, and set off by train to Yorkshire. The house is dark, slightly damp, and has acquired a stripe of bright green vegetation down one outside wall where a water pipe seems to be leaking. The hot-water boiler is not working, and the phone sounds as if it has been cut off. The sitting room smells of the long-dead Alsation dog again. Homely.
August 10th; Another day, dark & rainy outdoors, but warm & cosy indoors, with Nigel, young Cody, and Nigel's mother. I pop out to get some whisky [from a nearby shop with an electronically-operated double door to detain armed customers in a sort of airlock] and some Jamaican ginger ale from another shop. We all drink ginger and whisky, and Nigel's mother tells her account of seeing [and touching] a ghost one afternoon in her bedroom some years ago. Jo-Georgina arrives to pick up her daughter Cody, and we natter past midnight.

August 9th; Manchester: the Nigel of Darkness & I rise late. Over breakfast, Cody shows me a couple of the video games she plays on her hand-held pink device. One is about designing fashion outfits, and another is about surfing with penguins. Nigel and I visit the storage facility a couple of miles down Cheetham Hill Road, today being run by a pretty girl who is not Slovak. Monika is Polish. The deal with the storage place is not quite what I had understood, so we withdraw to think it over. Walking back, Nigel tells me about his friend Mark in London, with his band Whoboys, who is now on his 3rd Japanese wife. He also mentions a chat with a Swedish ex-rocket-scientist in Norway who introduced him to the handy term "passive income" [like rental income - where money comes in by itself]. As we walk along Cheetham Hill Road I find strewn across the pavement a mobile phone in three pieces - battery fallen out and back off. I put it back together, switch it on, and check through the addresses to find who I could text. The owner has friends with names like 'Weed', 'Zig', 'Turd', 'Black Steve', 'Tasha', 'Proactive', 'Taz', and 'Ian's Mum'. The owner rings me up, a little distraught at first, but I calm him down. We arrange to meet at the Cleveland Hotel in Crumpsall [once the "3rd hardest pub in Manchester" but now, Nigel says, really quite civilised]. The phone owner, Mike, has a small bicycle and is very grateful to get his phone back. He presses a tenner on me, and calls us gents. Back indoors, Nigel, Cody & I watch an episode of 'Kim Possible', a cartoon about a teenage redhead who does things like fly spaceships. She says things like "No big" and "What's the sitch?" After dinner we watch another cartoon, called 'Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends' about another girl with red hair. This heroine copes with a series of social conundrums about growing up, to a retro backdrop of highly-coloured stylised furniture. By evening, Nigel and I take some Jumex [selegiline], a supposed smart drug.
8.45pm: Take 15mg with water. Wait for effects, then have dinner downstairs with Cody. She shows me her shop slogan "All 1 pound, no little no less". Back upstairs to wait for alleged cognitive stimulant to kick in.
10.30pm: Begin to notice small movements out of the corner of my eye. A mild sense of heightened alertness and composure.
Midnight: Time seems to pass fairly quickly, with a feeling of relaxed concentration. Nigel & I agree there's a sense of being able to take in more types of information at once without confusion or irritation.
1.30am: After walking Juno the dog in the night-time drizzle with Nigel & Cody, Nigel & I are back staying up after the others have gone to bed. We are watching a film about two very striking lesbians who decide to steal lots of money from one of their husbands, a nasty gangster. Am not feeling especially clever, but generally calm, alert, and competent. A good state of mind to get some work done. What Mariann would call a very "English" sort of drug.
August 8th; Kind Michael drives me to Bratislava airport. The building seems to be deserted except for bored Slovak girls in their early 20s, who appear to staff the whole building unassisted by any men, rather like an episode of Starmaidens. Aeroplane arrives late, but we reach Manchester, disgorging its healthy portion of leggy Slovak women, many of whom are contentedly looking after small blonde children. In Manchester airport I recharge my laptop at the Burger King, in the process buying a couple of orange juices from a very friendly, cute lass who is ...Slovak. By evening, I reach Nigel's where he is with Juno the dog, Nigel's mother, and her great niece, Cody, a lively girl of ten. Over dinner, Nigel tells me about a friend, Harriet, who has now become an "aggressive breast feeder". After dark, Nigel, Cody, and I go out to walk Juno. We pass through the badly-lit park telling Cody about ghosts. She explains they can only take your soul if you are in state of doubt and fear. Nigel shows us where the rustle of hidden water under a metal plate betrays a secret river diverted into a pipeline under the night-time park. Cody chatters cheerfully on, using a kind of archaic speech almost from the England of Spencer & Sidney: "Aye, Nigel, gone right done me head in bloody mad, that". Cody does lots of hobbies: she says "I go choir, I go brownie, I go samba." She likes my watch, and how the display looks like a set of bathroom scales, only she says it looks "like a weighing stone".

August 7th; Take train to Bratislava through hot sunshine. Meet relaxed Michael, his wife Agi, and his two cheerful little boys. Michael & I go out for a tranquil Slovak dinner, beers, beherovka, jaegermeister, and more beers, and tells me about his three saleable-sounding book proposals. While it is still daylight, as we walk through Bratislava, we pass a tramp sleeping outside a building with a big, square rip in his trousers so we can see his bottom and his scrotum. The rest of the town is remarkably quiet and affluent-looking, however. As slim, long-legged girls keep passing our table at one cafe after dark, I start to be convinced by the Slovak Siren Theory. Briefly, a small, angry man stands in the middle of the street and screams manic abuse at everyone and himself, but despite the two-minute interruption, the steady promenade of well-turned-out tall young women just continues. We end up in conversation at a night club with elegant Jana, a forceful administration student who demands we chat her up by staring fixedly at me until I offer her some of our snacks.
August 6th; Cocktails with Rob, followed by a remarkable curry. Possibly the best Indian meal ever for either of us. He relates recently seeing in the sunshine outside the Mammut shopping centre a large, mournful-looking man wearing a white tee-shirt with the English slogan in black letters: "Nobody Knows That I'm Gay". Rob's wife Eti & his little girl Mali are on good form. A recent article he read was about a small number of children of WWII German Nazis who converted to Judaism, and now often take the Palestinian side of things. He explains to me Philip Davis's theory that Shakespeare's function shifts [like verbing nouns] use different parts of the brain from normal language. Rob reminds me how his loathed English teacher from Northern Ireland, Paddy Kavanagh, would stop the class during 'Duchess of Malfi' readings to say "Notice, boys, how this is a reference to the foreskin being peeled back like a banana" or how, in Donne's verse "Go and catch a falling star, get with child a mandrake root" the mandrake root was clearly a thrusting penis, not a fucking tuber, etc etc. Rob also says I should see a new film called 'In Bruges', and he mentions some bits of news suggesting two political movements with something like a self-extinction wish. Britain's Labour government's creepy new biometric passports have been shown to be hackable [of course], so hugely worsening fraud and identity theft. But to improve on this, Labour is going ahead with a plan to launch unmanned drone-style spyplanes to fly over Britain at 50,000 feet doing mass covert surveillance of ordinary people - raising the odds Labour will never win an election ever again. Meanwhile, Barack Obama has been not only unwise enough to tell the American public he knows who Rilke is, but even to reveal that he's read some of his work. Very pleasantly merry on cocktails and rum-enhanced mango lassi. Rob brilliantly simplifies one of my plans.

August 5th; Relaxing drinks with Jose, who urges me to read this book and check this quote.
August 4th; Find a Manchester storage place over the phone at last. Quiet evening of bevvies with Mystery Friend 2 follows. Istvan joins us with Robin, who has brought back his white-line artwork from the countryside for me, and is cheerful, fresh from winning at cricket yesterday.

August 3rd; Having finally installed Drupal myself on my laptop, though with crucial help & encouragement over Skype chat from Mystery Friend 1, now I have to work out how to "enable a module". Today is the fourth Red Bull day-into-night in a row, and I finish off some editing work for a new client. Citizens, at all costs avoid Red Bull's own Cola flavour. How I imagine fly spray tastes. Six tracks from Lady Waks: a b c d e f. Do we respect the phat beatz, or is it all a bit dreary and earnest?
August 2nd; More editing work. Also finish Franc's copy of 'The Sword of No-Sword' by John Stevens, a biography, in places bordering on hagiography, of a mid-19th-century Japanese kendo teacher, poet and calligrapher: Master Warrior Tesshu. Both interesting and inspiring. This kind of Japanese character, a dedicated sword fighter who struggles through years of relentless, unceasing practice until reaching Zen enlightenment, plays a low-key but crucial role behind the scenes of national politics, sets up his own dojo and school, continues the grinding schedule, does huge amounts of beautiful calligraphy - this type seems to have disappeared from some western countries. Apart perhaps from Rupert Brookes' first couple of months' exultation at the outbreak of World War One, has any Briton positively lived the gentleman-soldier/diplomat-poet life since Philip Sidney? After protestant occultism, it is hard not to think of Zen, Europe and America's favourite Oriental mysticism for a century, as protestant Buddhism. Bare wooden floors, long hours of frustrating, repetitive practice and meditation, virtuously plain practice halls, homilies on the simple beauties of nature, austere pleasures like pebble gardens and unsweetened green tea, Japan's brand of Buddhism is about as northern European as it gets. The Word might not quite triumph, but it fuses with the image, itself stripped down to spare cartoons of three or four brushstrokes. Stern or violent teachers, stoically refusing to water down or explain their teaching. A sense that all things pass. Disdain for display, outward show, or decoration. North-of-England, even. It's anti-intellectual. It doesn't brood on mystery. It reveres common sense, albeit a kind of heightened common sense. Illusion is bad, clarity & realism are always good. Uneducated rustics often see to the heart of things. Enlightened teachers can get drunk every day, as long as they never take themselves too seriously. Insight often comes with humour. Long-windedness is laughable. Less is more. The cod Yorkshire expression [surely legendary?] "Put wood in hole" for "Close the door" suddenly sounds Zen while reading this. The author is not so much less interesting a figure than Tesshu himself [Stevens would of course be humbly outraged at being compared to the great kendo fighter]. An American, he stares out of the back cover with the impassive yet concentrated face of the martial arts adept, his white karatejamas just visible in the photo: a non-Japanese who lives and teaches aikido in Japan and has apparently immersed himself in its culture completely. In this very straight-down-the-middle book, he proceeds through Tesshu's life and achievements in orderly sections, including lots of the sword-fencing teacher's calligraphy and humorous sketches. Tesshu appears to have been crucial in reconciling Japan to modernisation, at the same time as working ceaselessly to continue its traditions in the spirit he thought they deserved. He died in 1888, before seeing whether the fusion of state-driven industrialisation and a Zen-steeped class of ex-samurai purists was quite as healthy a combination as it might have looked at the time. Dedicated, modest, generous, a man with a single-minded mission. "One-pointed" is of course a compliment in Buddhism.

August 1st; Entire day proofreading user manuals for the waiting-queue ticket-machine people. The glamour continues. Hot and sticky the whole day. No matter how often I wash, my skin feels like the back of a self-adhesive pricetag all day. Two days ago saw a girl with a male handler in my local all-night supermarket. He was dressed normally, though with a small backpack marked by an odd logo of a yellow triangle with a black stallion rampant. She was dressed in a red minidress, with straw and cork platform shoes tasselled with the same prancing-horse logo, and two large ear-rings made of pendants showing the logo again. Even with her belt, made of Formula-One car-race starter-flag black and white squares, failed to help me connect it with Hungary's Formula One race around now at Hungaroring. Franc yesterday confirmed that the logo is for Ferrari, so she was clearly a hostess. I asked them both if they were selling something since they were covered in badges, and they looked at me as if I was mentally ill.
Though I resent bad customer service, as I proofread documents all today about different ways to measure and track how hard clerks are working in banks, I start to feel a twinge of pity for them. I take a break and go to the day-time shop. As I reach across the girl to get myself a carrier bag she leans close and quickly mutters at me to let her do that, because "the cameras don't like customers reaching into the till area." She speaks so fast in a low tone, and I'm so stunned she anthropomorphises cameras, I am still not sure if she said 'cameras' or put in an extra syllable to indicate "camera folk" or "camera ones". I look up, and above both cashiers are two cameras pointed straight down into the two tills like ...well, a bit like weapons. Entirely sensible of course to film the tills at all times, but still unsettling somehow. Searching for the Tonio K song 'I Handle Snakes, Y'All', I find instead God-fearing bluesmen Uncle Scratch's Gospel Revival. At the smoover and probably more sinful end of things, here is some Freakpower: 1 2 3 .

Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith @ yahoo.com

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